I’m not a good baker of cakes. I blame this partly on my oven, which is a commercial gas monster with an unreliable temperature gauge, and partly on my inability to follow a recipe. I can’t stop myself making adjustments and, as we know, this can be fatal when baking cakes.
So when I got sent a review copy of Annie Bell’s Baking Bible I thought the publishers had got me mixed up with another food writer – a domestic goddess who knows her sponges from her pound cakes, perhaps. I could have sent it back but instead I found myself flicking through the pages admiring the photography and the next thing I knew I was marking it with post it notes.
There are a huge number of baking books out there but this is the best I’ve seen. It really is a bible. Not only that, it’s a lovely looking book; a hefty hardback, nicely set out and easy to follow, in line with the writer’s pared back philosophy to baking. The ingredient lists finish with ‘little extras’ should you wish to dress things up but what I like is the emphasis on the cake/biscuit/tart itself. I have no doubt these recipes will work; Annie Bell is noted for the care she takes designing recipes. She has written for Vogue and the Independent and has been, for many years, the food writer for the Mail on Sunday’s magazine.
I’m sure I’ll bake lots of the recipes in this, her latest book. I’ve bookmarked the New York cheesecake, salted caramel flapjacks, saffron lemon crisps and cannelés Bordelais. The latter are my favourite and I’m delighted to discover Annie thinks cannelé’s are no harder to produce than clafoutis. I have a set of silicone cannelé moulds that I’ve been too intimidated to use until now.
For the purposes of this review I decided to test the Ginger, Almond and Fig Meringue Cake. I was encouraged by the photograph showing a lovely broken crust, which I was sure I could emulate, and the notes that said it was “endlessly adaptable”.
In order to give it a fair trial I promised self-restraint and followed the recipe to the letter. It was really easy and turned out just like the picture in the book. I took it to a fireworks party the same night, where it was wolfed down so fast I had to beg a spoonful from someone else’s plate. It’s a cake I plan to make often, only next time I will revert to type and make a few adjustments – pistachio nuts, figs and a dash of rose water will ring the changes for Christmas.
Annie Bell’s Baking Bible is published by Kyle Books and distributed in NZ by New Holland. RRP 59.99